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Books

Less Than a Semi-Charmed Kind of Life

Posted by Caitlin / May 16, 2012

une vie inutile-16-05-2012.jpgUne Vie Inutile is Simon Paquet's second novel published at one of my favourite small presses, Héliotrope. Unlike the life of the main character implied by the book's title, it is far from being a useless read. I'm going to urge all of you French-reading bros and babes to get interested in some local franco literature because the voice of the main character, Normand, is everything that is great about so much francophone Québécois writing. He is cynical, self-deprecating, with a tar-black sense of humour and just the appropriate pinch of suicidal tendencies.

I guess I should apologize for the Third Eye Blind reference, but for some reason that band makes me about as depressed as Normand's life does. He lives in a basement apartment that actually used to be a storage closet, his hearse-driving friend found him an on-call job working the nightshift at a cyanide factory, his family hates him and periodically disowns him until they need a favour, he gets his physical contact from a massage parlour and there is a tar truck that is perpetually parked in front of his window, blocking the picturesque view of slit-your-wrists lane.

Paquet has created a character that dwells in the layer of shit and desperation just below rock bottom and, just when a glimmer of hope peaks out on the horizon, he sinks lower. Characters are so dark and morbid that they become hilarious.

When Normand takes a trip to Lithuania that plunges him into debt to meet up with a friend who he ends up not being able to find, he stays at a horrific straw mattress type inn where the old Lithuanian innkeeper verbally abuses him. When he tries to make conversation by asking her what her favourite colour is and she responds with "I hate them all" (p.158), I was grateful to be given a chance to laugh, seeing as how the deep despair of his existence was about to make me cry.

Through a story about society's individuals that we'd often rather forget, Paquet manages to weave in loads of subtle poetry and striking imagery. Normand's respect for insects more than for other human beings brought Kafka to mind, which ain't too shabby a comparison.

There is something so deeply and hilariously mean about the people in the world created for us that I began to question its reality and the main character/narrator's sanity. Yes, I'm aware that this is creative fiction and the world I am reading is inherently false. I'm not actually crazy. But when fiction is good, it sucks you in and makes you reconsider it from all its angles. I must say that this one crept up on me. Only when I found myself feeling as depressed as the main character did I realize that Simon Paquet had done his job and done it well.

And yet there is something off about this character, something hinted at and never truly explained, something that shows itself clearly for a second before hiding again behind a joke about suicide. The unexplained something has persisted and still lingers, which is definitely all that I ever actually want out of a book.Simon Paquet-16-05-2012.jpg


Published by Héliotrope

185 pages

Discussion

9 Comments

Leonardo / February 3, 2015 at 11:49 pm
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